From a very early age, children are asked to aspire to a profession. What do you want to be when you grow up? Their answers are predictable--fireman, policeman, teacher or veterinarian--the professionals that touch children’s lives and earn their respect. I have yet to hear a child say he aspires to become a plumber, an architect or for that matter, a writer.
Children discover some professions through familiarity--a family business, a favourite relative’s passion--but unless parents have a relationship with the arts, most kids mature into adults with limited exposure to literature, galleries or museums. Culture seems to be missing from school curriculums.
A few catch the writing bug during English classes, and those students lucky enough to have art and music programs in their schools, may be infected, want to dance, paint or dream about playing in an orchestra. But the singular, common language of our youth is music. The God-awful rap that blares from the radio is pure poetry. And while I have heard poets complain that editors are reluctant to accept rhyming verse, for this generation, poetry is like mother’s milk.
Young rappers (don’t call them poets—too old fashioned) have a dream--become a super-star and earn millions while looking cool. Whether they make it or not, kids are writing more poetry today than ever before.
But what about the dreamer, the prose writer, who clandestinely writes entries in her journal each day. Who does she look to as a role model? There aren’t many obvious examples, and certainly none that get a gig on late-night talk shows. The glossy covers of best-selling novels seem too distant, and in reality, the young writer is correct. She may never make it to the top publishing house. But will the iconic publishers survive new technology and the intimacy created by social media? Time will tell, but in the meantime, there are more opportunities than ever before for her to see her name in print—and be paid for it.
Page & Spine is an e-zine, dedicated to promoting emerging writers, and pays for their work, but there are many others. Because of these sites, short story writing has accelerated to professional status with sites that specialize in many genres. Some writers may recall when Reader’s Digest, Chicken Soup for the Soul and a handful of magazines were the only places to send a short story. The pickings were slim for a writer with a dream that didn’t fit into a mould. Opportunities now abound.
Novelists--the good, the bad and the downright ugly--can all see their novesl make it to electronic or hard-copy print. The world of self-publishing is exploding in popularity and threatens the future of traditional publishers. There are charlatans in this new industry that will cater to a novelist’s dream, exploit and use people’s egos as the weak link. Alternatively,there are affordable do-it-yourself kits that will teach writers how to get a book into the market. Being published is now within the reach of all writers.
Let’s not forget that Fifty Shades of Grey was a self-published internet book, and JK Rowling was stone-cold broke, and wrote her first novel on napkins. Real-life Cinderella stories abound, but the writer must take an active role in the business of writing.
Artists use many mediums, oil, acrylics, and water colours. Some sculpt in marble or blow glass into exotic shapes. Writing, as a profession, is both a noble and an achievable goal. In itself, writing can be highly satisfying; a form of expression that allows for time to congeal and focus thoughts, but it can also be attached to a pay cheque. Beyond the obvious--novels, journalism and copy writing--an entire new industry needs writers. Writing for the internet, partnering with web designers, is a lucrative ambition.
The next time a young child presents his masterpiece, scribbles on a page, smile sweetly and acknowledge the gift, saying: “So, you want to be a writer."
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.